The three performers — Gareth Brierley, Fiona Creese and Mark Long (the latter a company member since its inception in 1966), who devised the piece along with Sadie Cook — are clearly professionals with all the required skills, and that includes improv. When a cellphone rang loudly, the performers turned the moment into a comic bit, then seamlessly returned to the business at hand.
Unfortunately, the funny stuff is largely subsumed within a mind-numbingly complex murder-mystery narrative. The zany send-up of the Agatha Christie brand of British murder mysteries is so confusing, you may find yourself expending most of your energy trying to understand what’s going on rather than laughing.
Brierley jumps in and out of a character named Gareth, an actor. He’s pursuing an attractive tour guide (Creese) who takes people on “Agatha Christie walks” and who apparently has a dark secret. When she turns up dead, Gareth is a suspect.
The events are narrated off and on by Brierley in what he says is his “real person” persona (closely resembling Ricky Gervais). As directed by Jessica Worrell, the performers play various roles — themselves as People Show actors, plus terse, trench-coated detectives; a fawning Italian restaurateur who serves a seagull salad complete with a whole seagull; a forensic lab scientist; a librarian given to hissy fits; and more. (Long is a particularly transformative player.)
Original recorded music by George Khan is part of the mix, Clues include a buzzing fly; a mysterious, decades-old package left at the airport that contains a revolver; a condom filled with the sperm of Hitler and a photo of Hedy Lamar; and a missing Christie library book.
Amusing costume changes, and occasional changes of accent, define the various characters, but there are so many changes, and they happen so rapidly, the mind boggles.
This is People Show’s 121st production, and it’s the company’s first time performing in the Bay Area since 1989, Billed as the U.K.’s longest-running alternative theater, the troupe comes with recommendations from the likes of Sam Shepard.
People Show 121: The Detective Show
Where: Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday